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Vol. IV,  No. 36                                October 10 - 16, 2004                       Quezon City, Philippines


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Special Report

Is There Life after the Riles*?
‘Para lang kaming mga hayop na tinapon dito’

To make way for government’s ambitious multi-million railway rehabilitation, thousands of urban poor families living along the old tracks of Metro Manila have been evicted and resettled in nearby provinces several kilometers away. Finding the relocation sites unbearable, however, many families have gone back to the metropolis’ ghettoes to rebuild their lives – again - as informal dwellers.


SUICIDAL: Eric Manalaysay, 25, a month after his attempted suicide.

SAN JOSE DEL MONTE, Bulacan – Twenty-five year old Eric Manalaysay’s troubles began March 2003 when his family’s house in Barangay 80, 10th Avenue, Sangandaan along Caloocan City’s railway was demolished. Eighteen months later - on Sept. 3 – without a job and depressed, Eric attempted suicide.

He drank gin - a poor man’s hard liquor - and gulped down 37 tablets of ferrous sulfate thinking that an overdose would finish him off. Then he slashed his left wrist.

Shocked at what her son did, Nene brought Eric to a public hospital, about 45 minutes away from their home in Towerville in this remote rural town north of Manila. But despite his critical condition, Eric was denied emergency treatment because his 47-year-old mother could not give any down payment.  

Nene rushed back home, took some pieces of property as collateral for loan from neighbors. They too were penniless. Fortunately, a friend in a nearby village lent her some money just enough to save her son’s life.

Talking to this writer last week, Eric said he never imagined himself taking his own life. He thought he was making “good” when his family lived in a slum community along Caloocan City’s railways, some 35 kilometers away.  As a cable technician in a telecommunications company in Makati, he was earning P380 a day plus food allowance and overtime pay. 

He had just gotten married to Jenny, 20, in March 2003 when a demolition team came to their community. Eric and his family just stared helplessly as the demolition crew wrecked their house and those of 148 other families. Then they were told to board six-by-six trucks that brought them to the Towerville Resettlement Project Phase 4 in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, about 35 kms away.

Para lang kaming mga hayop na tinapon dito” (We’re just like animals dumped here), he said. He had to stop reporting for work in Makati, which is about 50 kms from the relocation site, to put up a temporary shelter and begin rebuilding their lives at Towerville.

At first, Eric’s family and the other refugees were only given tents for shelter and P1,000 food allowance. There was no electricity and water was scarce.

Two months later, Eric went back to his company office in Makati. He was shooed away. Dejection turned to distress when he found no job near Towerville. Jenny decided to work as entertainer in Japan. As for Eric he began working as a macho dancer at a small club in nearby Novaliches.

Returning home after only six months, Jenny got herself pregnant. She suffered a miscarriage two months later. That seemed like the final straw for the young lass.  She left home and Eric found himself alone. It was at this point that Eric slashed his wrist.

(Left) BEFORE: Aling Nene during happier days sometime last year along the railways of Caloocan. (Right) AFTER: Aling Nene and child, one-and-a-half years after resettlement in Towerville.


What happened to Eric is just one of extreme cases that befell many of the refugees of Towerville. The Phase 4 settlers came all the way from Sangandaan. Among those spoken to by Bulatlat, their common plaint is that their lives have turned from bad to worse since they were brought here.

Of the total households relocated in Phase 4 only 70 families remain. Towerville Phase 4 was opened to pave the way for the first phase of the Northrail rehabilitation project that will run 32 kms from Caloocan to Malolos, Bulacan. The new railway will be extended to Clark in Pampanga all the way to San Fernando, La Union in northern Philippines.  

Last September, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo brokered a $500 million loan from the Chinese government to fund the project now collectively known as the Manila-Clark Rapid Railway System (Northrail) Project of the state-owned North Luzon Railways Corporation (NLRC).

Towerville Phase 4 is a 35.5-hectare property owned and developed by the Goldenville Realty and Development Corporation (GRDC). The Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) signed by GRDC’s president and general manager Ida Abendaño-Guinto, states that the property was acquired by the government’s National Housing Authority’s (NHA) land acquisition for the informal dwellers along the railroad tracks affected by the construction of the Northrail. 

Ronnie Ortiz Abuyog, president of Towerville Homeowners Association, said that half of the 149 families who were resettled here last year have gone back to Manila.  Some even sold their rights to their lots just so they could have money and desert the place, he added. 

Mahirap ang buhay namin dito, ibang-iba sa buhay namin sa riles” (Life is hard here compared to what we had along the railways), Mang Ronnie tells Bulatlat. 

Broken promises

In what seemed like the rites before a religious sacrifice in March last year, the railway dwellers in 10th Avenue were told to assemble for a dialogue with housing czar Mike Defensor and city officials. Mang Ronnie recalls that Defensor, who is now environment secretary, promised them lots complete with a school, medical center, market and other amenities. 

Interviewed last week by Bulatlat, Teresita T. Valderrama, OIC of the NHA’s Resettlement and Development Services Department (RDSD) based in Quezon City, said the resettled families were given a minimum of 50-sq. m. lots worth P2,540 per sq. m., housing materials worth P40,000 and P10,000 for labor fees.  She showed NHA records attesting that 132 families availed of the P50,000 worth of loan. 

But Mang Ronnie, who got a 91-sq. m. corner lot, said the materials were not even enough to build a decent house for their families.  The materials consisted mainly of a few hallow blocks for walls and a few pieces of galvanized iron and wood for roofing. 

Proof of this is that like most houses in Towerville, Mang Ronnie’s house has soil and gravel for flooring. Most houses have only cracked pieces of plywood for doors and windows; at least one unit has no roof (please see photo).

Contrary to government press releases, relocation is not free. For the first three years at Towerville, for example, each family is expected to pay about P300 per month, increasing to P350 a month after that. Loans should be paid in 30 years. 

Wala silang binigay, wala kaming hiningi.  Lahat ito ay utang” (They gave nothing, we asked for nothing.  All of these are loans), said Mang Ronnie. 

There appears to be no guarantee of ownership either. To set foot on Towerville, each resettlement awardee was given an entry pass. The pass says: “This entry pass is only a permit to enter the aforesaid resettlement project and does not constitute automatic award of the residential lot.” 

Wala kaming kasiguraduhan dito” (We have no assurance here), Mang Ronnie said.

NHA’s Valderrama however explained that, historically, there is no NHA awardee evicted from any government resettlement area. In fact, she added, some residents have availed of “amnesty” from payment from the government.

Although the former Caloocan dwellers were promised a grace period of three years before they start paying, they began receiving last January – or less than a year following their relocation - an Individual Notice of Award (INA) stating they have to start paying their monthly amortization.  Those who were unable to pay were not given water connections. 

Most families could not pay the amortization since whatever income they earn is only good for food. “Uunahin pa ba namin ang pagbabayad sa lupa? Syempre kung may pera kami, bibili muna kami ng pagkain” (Given a choice between paying and being able to eat, we would choose food), Mang Ronnie said.

Tawid uhaw

Deprived of water connections, residents fetch water from the community faucet that they call “tawid uhaw” (thirst quencher).  But the faucet is only open from 6-10 a.m. and 4-9 p.m. Depending on the size of their container, they pay from P0.50 to P2.50 each time they queue up for water. And all these for water that is not even potable. “Malabo ang tubig,” Mang Ronnie said.

To save on water expenses, residents do their laundry and take a bath in a nearby stream.

Barefooted Aling Nelia holding her one-year-old child who survived dengue

Valderrama also said the NHA is paying for electrical connection which cost P1, 200 for each household. She has to eat her own words: Most Towerville settlers have been literally living in the dark since their transfer. All residents, Mang Ronnie said, have applied for Meralco electricity lines but no lines have been put up except for one house which is nearest to the main switch.  

Without electricity, they could not for instance sleep at night as they cannot use their electric fans to drive away mosquitoes swarming the area. Barefooted Nelia Aporillo, 34, said about 20 of her neighbors have been afflicted with dengue, a lethal ailment caused by mosquito bites. One of the victims - her own one-year-old child – fortunately survived.

Unlike when they were in Caloocan, Towerville’s new settlers face the daily anxiety of where to get money for the rising expenses. The nearest market is about 8 kms and just going there and back home would cost P46. Schoolchildren need up to P50 in going to school, a distance of about 4 kms. Many schoolchidren have simply dropped out of school.

Looking for work

The biggest problem is of course finding a job. Back in Caloocan, looking for odd jobs was not a problem: one could work as a vendor, porter, laundrywoman, jeepney or tricycle driver or factory worker. Today, a number of Towerville residents have tried keeping their odd jobs along Caloocan’s railways. Going back and forth has been tough, though: transport fare alone is P90 and travel time chalks up five hours.

Johnny Avila, 28, had lived along the railways for nearly 20 years. As a messenger for a telecommunications company in Makati, he was paid P280 a day. 

He tried keeping his job when he and his family were relocated in Towerville last year. But he had to give it up last January after realizing that commuting and food allowance ate up most of his earnings and whatever was left in his pocket was barely enough for the daily household expenses. He lives with his wife and a one-year old boy.

Nagpapagod lang ako” (I just got tired), he said.

Valderrama said residents were entitled to a P25,000 loan for livelihood assistance which is also payable in 30 years with no interest. Good if this were true, Johnny said, but until last month he had yet to receive a loan he had applied for last year. To make ends meet, the Avila couple sometimes depend on dole outs from relatives living in Manila.

For Johnny, the government’s help may make a difference but those who have received their livelihood assistance say it is not good enough. 

Evelyn Raz, 34, got her livelihood assistance in April.  She and her husband, Norlindo, 34, used the loan to start a sari-sari (or variety) store. The store occupied half of their 50-sq. m. house with the front window serving as the counter. 

Evelyn, a mother of two, said her family makes do from the earnings of the store. But just the same she is worried because her neighbors have been buying her groceries on credit. “Syempre, kung wala silang makain papautangin ko. Pero saan kaya sila kukuha ng pambayad, e wala rin silang trabaho?” (Of course, if they have nothing to eat they get my foodstuffs and promise to pay later. But how can they pay when they have no work in the first place?), she asked. 

Mang Ronnie offers a suggestion:  Sana bago nila kami inilipat dito, nagtayo muna ng factory malapit sa amin para may ikabubuhay naman kami.” (Authorities should have put up first a factory near here where we could work before they brought us to this place.)  

Valderrama admits that the government relocation plans do not offer viable livelihood projects. “That’s why as much as possible,” she said, “what we really want is in-city relocation so the urban poor dwellers will at least not lose their jobs.”

Lack of work in or near Towerville makes the impact of dislocation harder for the urban poor dwellers.  As a result, Valderrama said, some of those relocated in nearby provinces go back to their former abode in the cities. And most likely as informal dwellers once more. Bulatlat  

Photos by Dabet Castañeda

* Riles is the Filipino term for railway

PHOTO ESSAY: Towerville

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